Monthly Archives: October 2016

Writing & Other Acts of Bravery

“I am a writer.”  I said that out loud to a stranger earlier this year and immediately glanced around to see if the store’s security was hurrying forward.  I must have been blushing because I felt my face get hot and my stomach somersaulting–kind of like being twitter-pated in the springtime.  (It’s a Bambi reference.  Go back and review your Disney films.)

I felt like any second my subterfuge would be discovered.  It wasn’t like I’d claimed to be a 300 lb black woman, a fraud people could instantly detect.   Anybody can raise a hand to be counted as a writer and no one would ever know the truth.  I was buying a ceramic octopus, intended to sit on my desk as inspiration for a YA story I was working on.  The lady in line behind me asked what it was for, and before I could shrug it off as a silly knick-knack, the words just slipped out and there it was:  now the universe knew.

I hadn’t really written since college, when I had deadlines to churn out short stories, screenplays, and for a while some truly awful poetry.  Before that, since I can remember, I dreamed up tales for fun and was always in favor of essay tests instead of multiple choice in school.  When the real world of work, family, and responsibilities closed in, I pushed writing to the back of the closet, pulling it out now and then to write silly Christmas poems for friends or edit other people’s writing.

All this was fine, I told myself, because you’re not a writer.  Instead, I read constantly.  Digesting a steady diet of words, craft, and imagery, whether I knew it or not, kept me tethered to possibility.  Daily, the crowd of impish meanies in my head scoffed rudely and produced lists of reasons why I could not and should not try this at home.   It doesn’t count if once upon a time your mama said you were good.  If you dare crack open that door, you will be like the pathetic American Idol contestant who can’t carry a tune in a bucket but who imagines they are Barbra Streisand.  A clown.  A hack.  A public joke.  So fear got to be the boss of me and I reasoned that the world had plenty of amazing writers already.  Exhibit A:  my overflowing bookshelves.

Plus, I was too busy.  A small business and growing family left no time for indulgences. I had “nothing to say.”  Then my oldest left for college.  I’m sure there’s an entire psychological avalanche of reasons why, but suddenly the excuses petered out.   Now a couple of decades older, I had had experiences that perhaps did give me something to say. I no longer cared about the impish meanies.  Why had I listened to their chorus in the first place?

So I started pecking out blog pieces, personal essays mostly, bits about my crazy family. There was no snickering, rotten tomatoes, or death threats.   Turns out when you hit “publish” and your message in a bottle drifts on the universe’s currents, no one much sees it.  Then I wrote a chapter based on an idea I had and made my teenage son listen to it.  Every few days, I’d do another installment, our evening miniseries.   Two more ideas later, I have another YA novel (the octopus) and a supernatural thriller in the works.

Each small step has led further down the path to connections, exposure and bravery.  Lots and lots of bravery.  It dawned on my that I preached to my kids about taking risks and pursuing their interests while I sat like a mouse huddled in a corner with what really mattered.  My oldest went sky diving this year.  Sitting at a keyboard and turning yourself inside-out across a page can be kind of like that.  Every fiber screams that this is a really dumb idea and you should just back out, but then you hit publish and you’re airborne, sucking wind and trying not to die.

But the parachute!  Once that sucker opens and you’re not hurtling towards earth, it’s kind of cool up there.  The view is fantastic.  Your fellow jumpers are all giving you the thumbs up with goofy grins plastered across their faces.  Floating like that releases a feeling of freedom and rush of endorphin because you know you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.

The community I’ve discovered on Twitter and Medium, the blog followers and Facebook commenters are the lift that enables flight.  Julie Valerie’s monthly blog hop has been both a motivator and an inspiration.  So many resources are available today that weren’t when I was literally typing out drafts on a manual typewriter all those years ago.   In this next year, I plan to participate for the first time in NaNoWriMo to force me to complete one of the half-drafts filed on my desk.   I will continue to submit beyond the blog to other outlets and contests.  Next fall, because I plan to guard my work time more jealously, I will enter PitchWars.  Because, curse you, impish meanies:  Why Not?!

And because, like I told the octopus lady in the store, I’m a writer.

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here:

Something Fishy

This summer, photographer Tim Samuel was freediving off the coast of Australia when he happened by a curious sight:  a fish stuck inside a jellyfish.  Who knows how the poor guy got into this predicament–a lost bet?, a quick dart for cover?– but there he was, encased in the transparent innards of another being, struggling to set his course.

Much like the Pushmi-Pullyu of Dr. Doolittle lore, the fish tried valiantly to steer in one direction, but the jellyfish had other

Doolittle's pushmi-pullyu
Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu

ideas; that is, as much of an idea as a non-sentient creature can have.  So the two ended up in a frustrating dance, the fish leading in one direction for a few hopeful moments, then twirling in circles led by the motions of the jellyfish.

Utterly stuck.

I stared at the pictures of that little fish for a long time, alternating between fascination and pity.  This was no symbiotic clown fish-anemone bargain.

It was a Big Oops.

How long had they been existing like this?  Had he surrendered to his plight as the new normal or did he hold out hope of escape?   Do fish hope?

Sometimes we cruise along merrily, caught up in the current’s rush and not paying much attention, and something takes over, recharting our course.  Maybe it’s a surprise pregnancy, a sudden loss, or a change in job status.

Image: Tim Samuel
Image: Tim Samuel

Oh, hello, Jellyfish!  Didn’t see that coming.  We have to readjust, struggling to steer with limited visibility through the gauzy haze that’s fallen.  Eventually, we part ways with the jelly because it was a temporary retreat.  Like Jonah’s whale,  it spits us out once we’ve sat long enough to learn the lessons within.

Then there’s the more worrisome situation.  The light shines down through the waters one day just enough to light up our prison.  We wake up out of our fog and see the walls of our own making.  All this time we thought this was living.  Realization settles in and a lump grows in our throats:  Regret.

Imagine how the heart sinks.  We never took that class, got the degree, popped the cork on a bottle of chilled champagne.  One day we look around and our passports remain unstamped, our taste buds untitillated.  As we drifted aimlessly inside the jellyfish, the current made the easy choices for us, leaving the hard, messy, rewarding roads open for those who swam unswaddled by limits.  There, the lowest common denominator makes the rules, and too much of anything (joy, faith, love, discovery) is frowned upon.

Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get shaken awake and make a run for it.  Unlike the unfortunate fish, we can escape from the trodden miles of waste that lie behind (wasted time, chances, calories) towards a different path.  Outside the jellyfish there’s an abundant waste, one that comes from an overflow.  Outside the jelly, we are in all the pictures because makeup and good hair doesn’t matter.   There, we ride the rides, eat the chocolate, and take scary steps of faith because the alternative is a lack of oxygen and color that shrinks us.

Outside the jellyfish an alabaster jar pours a wealth of grace at our feet.  It’s okay–encouraged–to pray big, sing loudly, jump into a pile of leaves like when you were young, and be so touched by beauty or kindness that it brings tears.  It’s no big deal to learn to tango, start that novel, or dress up like a T-Rex because it taps into your happy.  You don’t have to go 3.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu, but at least you have the option.

We weren’t born to just pay bills and die.  Somewhere between wanting to be a fireman when we grew up and sitting on the porch in our 80’s with a blanket across our knees there’s big wet sloppy kisses and zip lines and ice skating.  There are broken hearts, outrageous risks, and the cold side of the pillow.  There’s stuff in us waiting to be turned inside out and shown to the world because that’s what living out loud and living on purpose look like.

Stretch out your arms big and wide.  Draw a breath from the well that lies low in the depths.  Relax your shoulders and neck from where you’ve been balancing all the shoulds and oughts and expecteds and think about that fish.  All that open ocean and he’s stuck tight turning in circles.  Regret like that is heartbreaking.  Let’s put on some Jailhouse Rock and blow this joint.